By Pat Hayes
The site is rural, 2,800-acre Kelleys Island, Ohio, an island in Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland. In 1992, a group on a bird walk experienced some wonderful birds right in the midst of destruction of habitat. It was discussed that someone should do something for these birds and how might this be accomplished. Some census work was done and a Nature Club/Audubon Chapter was started for protection and to educate the people on the island. During the year of 1999 capacity building was the goal. The effort is ongoing now with diverse year-round programming with weeklong nature camps in spring.
With habitat destruction a very real problem in any area, it may be even more critical on an island. In order to promote the natural history of the island, it was necessary to build capacity in the Kelleys Island Audubon Club to advocate for preservation of natural areas on the island. Only if Audubon could lead by example would it have a clear message and be able to stimulate action. Leading by example required the partnering with agencies and educators who might lend quality assessments of the island’s flora and fauna. The problem was a matter of raising awareness.
What do you consider the key to your success?
Education was the key, and diversification was the hook that allowed the educational process to be effective. Appealing to many different interests, from bird walks to monarch migration to coyote lectures to wildflowers, has brought in a variety of people, kept the programs fresh, and stabilized meetings with 25-40 participants.
Being in a closed community made potlucks very important. It’s more of an event during the week with good food and a short meeting. Always touch on something new and bring in experts who present good and interesting programs. Ask for help and you may be surprised at what is available.
How would you outline the steps in organizing your project to advise another group on a similar project?
1. First, networking is paramount. Talk to anyone who will listen and be comfortable that your issue is meaningful and has something to offer. Be aware of different state programs that are going on. Attend those state-wide meetings and small meetings and you will find sources.
2. Be friendly and interested. Have a good ambassador.
3. Follow through on promises.
4. Form partnerships with a diverse group of individuals and organizations. Tap as many people as you can, and because finding them is so difficult, be sure to take advantage of them once they are located. Besides, it is invaluable to know these folks when you need political or scientific clout.
What have been the effects of this effort on your organization’s work?
The organization has grown and become vital in the community. The membership in Kelleys Island Audubon Club grew from 110 members in 1998 to 160 members in 1999. Participation in club meetings and the turnout at the dedication of a preserve indicate that the grant activities have heightened awareness. The selection of the President of the Audubon club as Kelleys Island Citizen of the Year certainly increased the visibility of the club and its efforts.
How has the project affected your community?
After the grant activities, Audubon members came from every facet of the community. Everyone brings something different to the table. Because of the long-term education process, people show up for all kinds of subjects at programs, then relate the experiences to their acquaintances and the education continues.
What particular stumbling blocks, challenges, or defeats did you encounter?
State agencies seem to drag their feet when projects are in the works. Because some businesses don’t realize the economic benefits of birders and nature tourists, there is some animosity by some businesses. These businesses are reluctant to attract eco-tourists because they don’t understand how much they spend. It is a matter of education again. Provide facts and figures if possible, so that economics can bring along those who don’t value the natural side as much.
How many people were involved?
Seven or eight people formed the original interest group that now involves over 150.
How many people-hours were spent on the various aspects of the project?
A tremendous number over a year.
How was public involvement motivated and facilitated?
Videotapes of interviews with natural history experts in the field were produced which facilitated production of an informational brochure of the island. The videotapes also were used for development of training materials for volunteers. The dedication of an island nature preserve was attended by over 200 people with good coverage in area newspapers and the Ohio Natural Resources newsletter. A web site was established describing the natural features of the island and references to the plants and animals found there. A wide variety of public programs were held throughout spring, summer, and fall.
How was public education a component of your program?
Every year school kids are taken out on field trips. A teachers’ /natural science library is being set up in the island school.
What was the primary means of communication?
The newsletter and monthly meetings kept people engaged and brought in volunteers. Networking with public agencies was a way to keep up with what resources might be available and also up on programs that might be of interest to the club.
What resources were available/acquired/tapped into?
The total project cost was $8,900. The monies came from mostly private sources such as GLAHNF. Partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was important.
What level of media exposure were you able to obtain and how did it affect your efforts?
We had very good media coverage from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, and Toledo Blade, as well as smaller regional papers. Front page coverage really increased the interest in our activities and programs. It is important to cultivate good media relations and to have fresh stories for them. Grassroots backing requested from the Division of Natural Resources helped with our efforts as their partnering was highly visible. A resolution passed by Council was another way to get high visibility support from a respected source.
Kelleys Island Audubon Society
P.O. Box 42
Kelleys Island, OH 43438